A guide to Ait Benhaddou

    Ksar of Ait BenHaddou is one of the most famous constructions in all of Morocco. You may have seen it many times when planning your tour to Morocco. We are sure that it was well-known to you at the very beginning. We are talking about the Ksar or Kasbah of Ait BenHaddou.

    Its great popularity is actually because of the fact that it was the setting for many famous films such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Gladiator, Prince of Persia and Game of Thrones in which it was the city of Yunkai.

    In this article, we will explain to you how to go to Ait BenHaddou providing you with some helpful advices.

    First of all, what is the discrepancy between Kasbah and Ksar?

    A Kasbah is one castle in which some rich family lived. Whereas Ksar is a fortified town, a kind of a palace, that is formed by many distinct constructions. Therefore, a Ksar includes many Kasbahs inside its borders.

    The Ksar of Ait BenHaddou

    The Ksar of Ait BenHaddou derives this name from the nation that ruled these states and started building it in the 17th century. As for the meaning of Ben, it means sons or sons of Haddou. They profited from the slope of a hill to build up tiny houses made of mud and clay. Some are rather simple and others appear like real palaces (Kasbahs). It was a site visited frequently by the caravans of tradesmen who followed the pathway between Marrakech and the cities on that side of the Sahara, in a tour that extended to many months.

    As time passes, the castle was deserted, despite the fact that many of its structures were conserved almost untouched, making it one of the perfect samples of medieval Berber pre-Saharan palace.

    It is one of the miracles of Morocco that deserves admiration for two reasons :

    The first one is the fact that it was appointed a UNESCO world cultural heritage in 1987.

    The second reason is that it has been the location for several big-budget films.

    Ait BenHaddou is the most famous “walled town” or Ksar/ Kasbah in Morocco in the city of Ouarzazat in the Draa Tafilalet area of Southern Morocco. This Ksar, or walled mud-brick tow, is a tourist attraction for a lot of people. In addition to being the site for the shooting of several cinematographic treasures. Besides being the base for the ancient Moroccan construction. In short, it is the Moroccan place which predates the endless Sahara desert, the widest in the world.

     A Little Background:

    The Ksar or walled villages with their clay and mud-brick houses terminated over time. They are like a marvellous ancient remains at the heart of nowhere. They are created to protect the crop and the palm forests that are planted along the rivers. They are square confined closures with four corner towers inside which small houses, play grounds and pathways were built up.

    Ait BenHaddou, 30 kilometers before arriving at Ouarzazate on the way from Marrakech, is one of the best conserved in the country as a result of some renovation. In addition to the UNESCO’s defence of it when it was announced as the world cultural heritage. Thanks to the grandeur of its Berber building, in the complex maze of pathways and concealed paths that can be visited after passing the Ounila River on muleback, exists the untouched attraction of its roots, when this Ksar was an entrance to and from the desert by means of which often entered caravans of travellers with camels packed with peculiar products.

    Art, Cinema and History:

    The cinema has played an important role in recreating and reshaping the image about such place by using it as a setting for many films such as The Jewel of the Nile, Sodom and Gomorrah, Gladiator and some scenes of Lawrence of Arabia. The seventh art may play a role in this stardom, but the real reason is its charm which can’t be denied.

    In the village, you can notice Moroccan craftworks of different kinds: clay pots, iron tools, leather belts, wool, handcrafted glass and other jewels. Ait BenHaddou is an outstanding illustration of southern Moroccan construction, whose history goes back to nearly a thousand years.

    What gives Ait BenHaddou such great fortune is the condition that imposed on caravans to be a compulsory stop for the caravans, by means of the industrial way of the Sahara, connected Sudan with the imperial city of Marrakech, via Telouet. The camels brought gold and silver amongst other riches and returned packed with salt.

    Thousands of people inhabited this walled city which had small castles, a public area, a mosque, a hostel for travellers, a store at the top of the village and two burial grounds: for Muslims and for Jewish.

    Eventually, the caravans began to fade away and the populace of Ait BenHaddou decreased through the years. At present only a few families dwell in the fortified closure. In spite of such retrogression, its essential part and the substance persists: the crimson buildings that merge with the earth, the conventional mud and straw houses, amid other distinctive and rare features of their area.

    Disappearing in this mud-brick maze is an amazing adventure. It is like coming back to the beginning of time. Despite the fact that merely by walking you will sense the echoes of ancient times.

    In spite of being destroyed, it is valuable to see the beautiful scenery it affords: at the top, you can observe the whole subtropical area and in the surrounding, the snow-covered summits of the Atlas.

    You can visit Ait BenHaddou by yourself or rent a courier to walk around with you and tell you about its history. But if you want to rent a guide, you are recommended to size up the price before beginning the trip. As for the guides, you can enquire about them at the reception of any of hotels in the new district.

    It is definitely valuable to explore the Kasbah of Ait BenHaddou carefully, coming into their houses and examining their lifestyle and their valuable and artistic concerns. It also gives us a quick look into the past which is something unusual to find these days.

    How to visit Ait Ben Haddou on your own

    Ait BenHaddou is separated into two parts:

    The ancient city (the well-known Ksar) and the modern city, with many choices for hotels and restaurants. It is situated about 30 km from Ouarzazate at the southern end of the Ounila Valley, which goes across charming countryside along the way to Marrakech, and crosses over the wonderful Telouet Kasbah.

    In the last few years, partial of the road was a dirt “land” route, but at present, it becomes asphalted road and in a perfect state. Hence, we think that it is the best route to get to Ait BenHaddou.

    The ancient palace is cut off from the modern city by the Ounila river. In order to reach its feet, you will have to go across the river by walking (never mind that the waterline is usually low or empty, in addition to the existence of a bridge).

    First, you can put your car in a parking garage near the hostel or just simply on the major street of the modern town. There are two places to pass over the river:

    1. Over the bridge which is erected recently (for people only not cars). It is at the back of the mosque.
    2. Descending the laneway to the restaurant La Terrazza and from there jumping into the sacking on the river or using the stones. If it is dried up, you haven’t anything to be afraid of.

    But first, you have to understand that there are three accesses to pass over the old walls: The first one is the one we made use of. It was from the new bridge on the left-hand side. The second one is in the midst of Ksar. It passes through the most amazing buildings. It is shortly after the sacking in the river. The third one is after passing through the river by the sacks, but taking the right after that.

    There’s a pathway near a small oasis and you get to an entry alley. We suppose that the entry is free of any charge. You can go through it without any payments. Despite the fact that we were informed that it relies on where you get in, if you walk through the main entry, you will pass through a personal house. So they might demand some money (as they said to us at the reception of the hotel). We entered from the accession of the new bridge and departed from the one on the right and no one requested any money. We can’t state if you have to pay money if you enter from the middle or even from the right.

    As soon as you are inside the walls, you will notice that Ait BenHaddou appears as a collection of paving stone streets with tiny houses on each side, generally unpopulated and flights of stairs. It isn’t a labyrinth. Just remember that first you have to proceed climbing up to arrive at the Agadir that tops the palace and then descend and exit, where possible by other streets and some other distinct door.

    Amongst its small houses, you will certainly view some houses which are detached from others. Generally, there must be about 6 Kasbahs (a few can be toured, 10 dirhams to enter), some museums. Especially the shops where they preserve their items or utilize them as an exposition. There are certain gift shops (the pictures are accomplished with tea and saffron. They are marvellous and they change their colour when exposed to heating. At the peak of the hill, you will have amazing sights of the country, even though you can see the most beautiful views of the mountain in front. You can go up from a tiny route that begins next to the 3rd entry, and it is the perfect place to see the dusk in front of Ait BenHaddou.

    How to visit Ait BenHaddou in a Planned, ordered trip:

    There are both journeys that fetch you from Marrakech in the day as other many days also from Marrakech in which they explore the most crucial spots of this area South of Atlas.

    These are the excursions we  advise you of  :

    • Tour of Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate. It lasts for one day.
    • A trip for 2 days: Ait Ben Haddou, Draa Valley and night in Erg Chegaga desert.
    • 3 days tour: Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Dades and Todra Valleys and night in Erg Chebbi desert.
    • A journey of 4 days : Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Dades and Todra valleys, night in Erg Chebbi desert, Berber villages and Draa Valley.

    Where to sleep in AitBenHaddou:

    You are advised to reside in the night in the small village to see the ancient Ksar both at dusk and at night from the mountain and to go to it during the subsequent morning. We resided at the La Baraka Hostel, which has ordinary small rooms but all the luxuries. There are other Riads which are more luxurious in the neighbourhood for bigger incomes.

    Where to eat in Ait BenHaddou:

    As for food, I liked to go to Italian restaurant to enjoy its beautiful sight. But the menu denied this wish ( 150 dirhams for pizzas and pastas). Therefore, we chose another Moroccan restaurant “the hostel Valentine”. It was a better choice than the first one because we ate a big and tasty meal with a very proper price “110 and 120 dirhams, with salad or soup, main, fruit and tea”. In addition to the beauty of the patio and the majesty of the man who was very awesome.

    We wish that these advices are useful and they aid you in your tour to the most famous and best protected Ksar.


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